Shi'a imams

Imamah (Arabic: إمامة‎) is the Shia Islam doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership of the Ummah. The Shīa believe that the A'immah ("Imams") are the true Caliphs or rightful successors of Muhammad, and further that Imams are possessed of divine knowledge and authority (‘Iṣmah) as well as being part of the Ahl al-Bayt, the family of Muhammad.[1] These Imams have the role of providing commentary and interpretation of the Quran[2] as well as guidance to their tariqa followers as is the case of the living Imams of the Nizari Ismaili tariqah.


The word Imam denotes a person who stands or walks in front. For Sunni Islam, the word is commonly used to mean a person who leads the course of prayer in the mosque. It also means the head of a madhhab or "school of thought". However, from the Shi'i point of view this is merely the basic understanding of the word in the Arabic language and for its proper religious usage the word 'Imam' is applicable only to those members of the House of the Prophet designated as the infallible by the preceding Imam.


The Shia further believe only these A'immah have the right to be Caliphs, meaning that all other caliphs, whether elected by consensus Ijma or not, are usurpers of the Caliphate.

All Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad had said: "To whomsoever I am Mawla, Ali is his Mawla." This hadith has been narrated in different ways by many different sources in no less than 45 hadith books of both Sunni and Shia collections. This hadith has also been narrated by the greatest collector of hadiths, al-Tirmidhi himslf, 3713; as well as Ibn Maajah, 121; etc. There is no doubt about its authenticity because of the many different sources of its narration. The major point of conflict between the Sunni and the Shia is in the interpretation of the word 'Mawla'. For the Shia the word means 'Lord and Master' and has the same elevated significance as when the term had been used to address the Prophet himself during his lifetime. Thus, when the Prophet actually (by speech) and physically (by way of having his closest companions including Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman [the three future Caliphs who had preceded Ali as Caliph] publicly accept Ali as their Lord and Master by taking Ali's hand in both of theirs as token of their allegiance to Ali) transferred this title and manner of addressing Ali as the Mawla for all Muslims at Ghadiri Khum Oasis just a few months before his death, the people that came to look upon Ali as Prophet Muhammad's immediate successor even before the Prophet's death came to be known as the Shia. However, for the Sunnis the word simply means the 'beloved' or the 'revered' and has no other significance at all.


Within Shia Islam (Shi'ism), the various sects came into being because they differed over their Imams' successions just as the Shia - Sunni separation within Islam itself had come into being from the dispute that had arisen over the succession to Prophet Mohammad. Each succession dispute brought forth a different tariqah (literal meaning 'path'; extended meaning 'sect') within Shia Islam. Each Shia tariqah followed its own particular Imam's dynasty thus resulting in different numbers of Imams for each particular Shia tariqah. When the dynastic line of the separating successor Imam ended with no heir to succeed him then either he (the last Imam) or his unborn successor was believed to have gone into concealment, that is, The Occultation.

The Shia tariqah with a majority of adherents are the Twelvers who are commonly known as the "Shia". After that come the Nizari Ismailis commonly known as the "Ismailis"; and then come the Mustalian Ismailis commonly known as the "Bohras" with further schisms within their Bohri tariqah. The Druze tariqah (very small in number today) initially were of the Fatimid Ismailis and separated from them (the Fatimid Ismailis) after the death of the Fatimid Imam and Caliph Hakim Bi Amrillah. The Shia Sevener tariqah no longer exists. Another small tariqah is the Shia Zaidi also known as the Fivers and who do not believe in The Occultation of their last Imam.

Although all these different Shia tariqahs belong to the Shia group (as opposed to the Sunni group) in Islam, there are major doctrinal differences between the main Shia tariqahs. After that there is the complete doctrinal break between all the different Shia tariqahs whose last Imams have gone into Occultation and the Shia Nizari Ismailis who deny the very concept of Occultation. The Shia Nizari Ismailis by definition have to have a present and living Imam until the end of time. Thus if any living Nizari Ismaili Imam fails to leave behind a successor after him then the Nizari Ismailism’s cardinal principle would be broken and it’s very raison d'être would come to an end.

The Shi'a Twelvers

Main articles: Twelvers and The Occultation

The period of occultation (ghaybat) is divided into two parts:

  • Ghaybat al-Sughra or Minor Occultation (874–941), consists of the first few decades after the Imam's disappearance when communication with him was maintained through deputies of the Imam.
  • Ghaybat al-Kubra or Major Occultation began 941 and is believed to continue until a time decided by God, when the Mahdi will reappear to bring absolute justice to the world.
Main article: Minor Occultation

During the Minor Occultation (Ghaybat al-Sughra), it is believed that al-Mahdi maintained contact with his followers via deputies (Arab. an-nuwāb al-arbaʻa literal: the four leaders). They represented him and acted as agents between him and his followers.

Whenever the believers faced a problem, they would write their concerns and send them to his deputy. The deputy would ascertain his verdict, endorse it with his seal and signature and return it to the relevant parties. The deputies also collected zakat and khums on his behalf. For the Shia, the idea of consulting a hidden Imam was not something new because the two prior Shia Imams had, on occasion, met with their followers from behind a curtain. Also, during the oppressive rule of the later Abbasid caliphs, the Shia Imams were heavily persecuted and held prisoners, thus their followers were forced to consult their Imams via messengers or secretly.

Shia Tradition hold that four deputies acted in succession to one another:

  1. Uthman ibn Sa’id al-Asadi
  2. Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman
  3. Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti
  4. Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri

In 941 (329 AH), the fourth deputy announced an order by al-Mahdi, that the deputy would soon die and that the deputyship would end and the period of the Major Occultation would begin.

The fourth deputy died six days later and the Shi'a Muslims continue to await the reappearance of the Mahdi. In the same year, many notable Shi'a scholars such as Ali ibn Babwayh Qummi and Muhammad ibn Yaqub Kulayni, the learned compiler of al-Kafi also died.

Main article: Major Occultation

According to the last letter of al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri "from the day of your death [the last deputy] the period of my major occultation (al ghaybatul kubra) will begin. Henceforth no one will see me unless and until Allah makes me appear." Another view is that the Hidden Imam is on earth "among the body of the Shia" but "incognito." "Numerous stories" exist of the Hidden Imam "manifesting himself to prominent members of the ulama."[3]


Twelver view

According to the majority of Shī'a, namely the Twelvers (Ithnā'ashariyya), the following is a listing of the rightful successors to Muḥammad. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam except for Hussayn ibn 'Alī, who was the brother of Hassan ibn 'Alī.The belief in this succession to Muḥammad stems from various Quranic ayaths which include: 75:36, 13:7, 35:24, 2:30, 2:124, 36:26, 7:142, 42:23. They support their discussion by putting facts from Genesis 17:19–20 and sunni hadeeth:Sahih Muslim, Hadith number 4478, English translation by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui.[4]

Number Name
Importance Birthplace (present day country) Place of death and burial
1 ‘Alī ibn Abu Talib
علي بن أبي طالب
Abu al-Hassan
أبو الحسن
Amir al-Mu'minin
(Commander of the Faithful)[7]
Birinci Ali[8]
The First Imam and the rightful successor of the Prophet of all Shia; however, the Sunnis acknowledge him as the fourth Caliph as well. He holds a high position in almost all Sufi Muslim orders (Turuq); the members of these orders trace their lineage to Muḥammad through him.[7] Mecca, Saudi Arabia[7] Assassinated by Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite in Kufa, who slashed him with a poisoned sword.[7][10] Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.
2 Hassan ibn ‘Alī
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muḥammad
أبو محمد
İkinci Ali[8]
He was the eldest surviving grandson of Muḥammad through Muḥammad's daughter, Fatimah Zahra. Hasan succeeded his father as the caliph in Kufa, and on the basis of peace treaty with Muawiya I, he relinquished control of Iraq following a reign of seven months.[13] Medina, Saudi Arabia[11] Poisoned by his wife in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the orders of the Caliph Yazid I.[14] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
3 Husayn ibn ‘Alī
الحسین بن علي
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبد الله
Sayed al-Shuhada
Üçüncü Ali[8]
He was a grandson of Muḥammad. Husayn opposed the validity of Caliph Yazid I. As a result, he and his family were later killed in the Battle of Karbala by Yazid's forces. After this incident, the commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a central ritual in Shia identity.[15][17] Medina, Saudi Arabia[15] Killed and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala.[15] Buried at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala, Iraq.
4 ‘Alī ibn al-Hussein
علي بن الحسین
Abu Muḥammad
أبو محمد
al-Sajjad, Zain al-Abedin


Dördüncü Ali[8]
658-9[18] – 712[19]
Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as "The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet." [19] Medina, Saudi Arabia[18] He was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Medina, Saudi Arabia.[19] The event is disputed. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
5 Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Baqir al-Ulum

(splitting open knowledge) [20]

Beşinci Ali[8]
Sunni and Shia sources both describe him as one of the early and most eminent legal scholars, teaching many students during his tenure.[20][21] Medina, Saudi Arabia[20] He was poisoned by Ibrahim ibn Walid ibn 'Abdallah in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik.[19] The event is disputed. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
6 Ja'far ibn Muḥammad
جعفر بن محمد
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبد الله

(the Trustworthy)

Altıncı Ali[8]
83–148 [22]
Established the Ja'fari jurisprudence and developed the Theology of Shia. He instructed many scholars in different fields, including Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas in fiqh, Wasil ibn Ata and Hisham ibn Hakam in Islamic theology, and Jābir ibn Hayyān in science and alchemy.[22][23] Medina, Saudi Arabia[22] He was poisoned in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur.[22] The event is disputed. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
7 Musa ibn Ja'far
موسی بن جعفر
Abu al-Hassan I
أبو الحسن الأول [24]
Yedinci Ali[8]
Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismaili and other branches after the death of the former Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq.[26] He established the network of agents who collected khums in the Shia community of the Middle East and the Greater Khorasan.[27] Medina, Saudi Arabia[25] Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. The event is strongly authentic. Buried in the Kazimayn shrine in Baghdad.[25]
8 ‘Alī ibn Musa
علي بن موسی
Abu al-Hassan II[24]
al-Rida, Reza[28]
Sekizinci Ali[8]
Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars.[28] Medina, Saudi Arabia[28] He was poisoned near Sanabad village near Tous town (in modern Mashhad-al-Reza city of Iran which was established because of his burial there). His poisoning was on the order of Caliph Al-Ma'mun. The event is authentic. He was buried in the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad.[28]
9 Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Taqi, al-Jawad[29]
Dokuzuncu Ali[8]
Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Medina, Saudi Arabia[29] Poisoned by his wife, Al-Ma'mun's daughter, in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tasim. Buried in the Kazmain shrine in Baghdad.[29]
10 ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad
علي بن محمد
Abu al-Hassan III
أبو الحسن الثالث[30]
al-Hadi, al-Naqi[30]
Onuncu Ali[8]
Strengthened the network of deputies in the Shia community. He sent them instructions, and received in turn financial contributions of the faithful from the khums and religious vows.[30] Surayya, a village near Medina, Saudi Arabia[30] He was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tazz.[31] The event is disputed. Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.
11 Hassan ibn ‘Alī
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muḥammad
أبو محمد
Onbirinci Ali[8]
For most of his life, the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mu'tamid, placed restrictions on him after the death of his father. Repression of the Shi'ite population was particularly high at the time due to their large size and growing power.[33] Medina, Saudi Arabia[32] He was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tamid in Samarra, Iraq. Buried in Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.[34]
12 Muḥammad ibn al-Hassan
محمد بن الحسن
Abu al-Qasim
أبو القاسم
al-Mahdi, Hidden Imam, al-Hujjah [35]
Onikinci Ali[8]
He is believed by Shi'ites to be the current Imam and the promised Mahdi, a messianic figure who will return in end times. Samarra, Iraq[36] He is believed to be living in the Occultation since 872 by the Twelver Shi'ites.[36]

Ismaili view

The Ismailis differ greatly from the Twelvers because of having a living Imam for centuries after the last Twelver imam went into concealment. They followed Ismail bin Jafar, elder brother of Musa al-Kazim, as the rightful Imam [37] after his father Jafar al-Sadiq. The Ismailis believe that whether Imam Ismail did or did not die before Imam Jafar al-Sadiq, he had passed on the mantle of the Imamat to his son Muḥammad bin Ismail as the next Imam. Thus, their line of Imams is as follows (the years of their individual Imamats during the Common Era are given in brackets):

  1. Ali ibn Abi Talib (632–661) - the Mustali sect of Ismailis consider the first Imam Ali to be at a higher designation than their other Imams i.e. he was the Asas (the 'Foundation').
  2. Hasan ibn Ali (661–669) - the Nizari sect of Ismailis do not consider Imam Hasan as a true Imam but a Pir (the 'enlightened').
  3. Husayn ibn Ali (669–680) - (661 - 680) for the Nizari sect of Ismailis.
  4. Ali ibn Husayn (Zayn al-Abidin) (680–713)
  5. Muhammad al-Baqir (713–733)
  6. Jafar al-Sadiq (733–765)
  7. Ismail bin Jafar (765 - 775)
  8. Muhammad ibn Ismail (775-813)

The Ismaili line of Imams for both sects (The Nizari and the Mustali)continues undivided until Mustansir Billah (d. 1094). After his death the line of the Imamat separates into the Nizari and Mustali dynasties.

The line of Imams of the Mustali Ismaili Shia Muslims (also known as the Bohras/Dawoodi Bohra) continued up to Aamir ibn Mustali. After his death they believe their 21st Imam Taiyab abi al-Qasim went into a Dawr-e-Satr (period of concealment) that continues to this day. In the absence of an Imam they are led by a Dai-al-Mutlaq (absolute missionary) who manages the affairs of the Imam-in-Concealment until re-emergence of the Imam from concealment. Dawoodi Bohra's present 52nd Dai is Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin.

The line of Imams of the

Zaidī view

Main article: Zaidiyyah

Zaidiyya, Zaidism or Zaydism (Arabic: الزيدية az-zaydiyya, adjective form Zaidi or Zaydi) is a Shī‘ah madh'hab (sect, school) named after the Imām Zayd ibn ʻAlī. Followers of the Zaidi fiqh are called Zaidis (or are occasionally called Fivers in the West). However, there is also a group called the Zaidi Wasītīs who are Twelvers.

See also



Further reading


External links

  • Al-imamah (emamah) page
  • A brief introduction of Twelve Imams
  • Al-Muraja'at
  • Allameh Tabatabaei
  • Allameh Tabatabaei
  • A Short History of the Lives of The Twelve Imams
  • Imamah in the Qur'an
  • Imam An article by Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  • Encyclopædia Iranica
  • Shia Islam - Ask Imam
  • Shia Network Ahlulbayt Discussion Forums
  • Twelve Successors
  • Bay Area Shiite-Muslims Association (
  • Imamia Mission Bury
  • Graphical illustration of the Shia sects
  • The Shia Islamic Guide (
  • Imamah in Sunni Islam
  • Imamah according to Sunnis


ru:Имамат (доктрина) th:อิมามชีอะหฺ

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